Is there a rift with head coach Jack Del Rio? If there is a rift, can it be repaired? Will Leftwich be traded? Will Leftwich be released? Will the team sign a free agent quarterback to replace Leftwich? How does Leftwich feel about the team and city? Why isn't Leftwich talking to the media? Why isn't Leftwich working out with the team? Will Leftwich show up during camp? What kind of shape will he be in? Will the team draft a quarterback to replace Leftwich? Nearly all the storylines of the Jaguars off-season have been all-Leftwich, all the time.
So which storylines are real, and which have been fabricated?
First and foremost, there are some issues between Jack Del Rio and Leftwich, but it's nothing that should affect the team. Leftwich said that there is mutual respect amongst the two, and although they are not going to have a drink together anytime soon, they should be able to do their respective jobs. There have been many strained quarterback-head coach relationships over the years, and most of them have been able to have been overcome for the betterment of the team, one of which was the relationship between Mark Brunell and Tom Coughlin. Although the legend of "St. Mark" seems to be growing exponentially since his departure from Jacksonville, Brunell certainly had issues with his head coach when they were in Jacksonville together, and the team did well despite those issues.
The questions about Leftwich's status in Jacksonville (at least for this season) were answered back in February when Del Rio named Leftwich the Jaguars starting quarterback. The team looked at all of the options available, and clearly Leftwich was the best one. On the roster, David Garrard had a chance to secure the job and he failed at the end of the season, and third-stringer Quinn Gray hasn't been good enough to win the backup job from Garrard, despite playing fairly well in his very limited game action. This years' free agent class was full of mostly journeyman free agent quarterbacks, as well as unproven younger guys. No one was clearly a viable alternative to Leftwich. Regarding the draft, the Jaguars reportedly targeted some of the later round guys, and they were taken higher than the value that the Jaguars had placed on them. The team had an opportunity to take Brady Quinn from Notre Dame in the first round, but passed on him not once, but twice.
Regarding the voluntary workouts, Leftwich decided to work out in Miami with Fred Taylor. Leftwich made all the coaches aware of his decision, and the end result was that Leftwich didn't miss any part of mini-camp, and appears to be in the best shape of his career. Since then, Leftwich has chosen to stay in Jacksonville and work out with the team, while Taylor has since returned to Miami. It appears that Fred Taylor not working out with the team isn't anywhere near as much of a story.
When Leftwich finally sat down in front of the media before mini-camp, he answered all the questions directly and truthfully. Leftwich felt that there was no major announcement necessary when he was named the starting quarterback, because that wasn't news to him. He felt that he was always the starting quarterback as long as he was healthy enough to play.
So what questions continue to linger?
It's mainly one, two-part question. Byron Leftwich's ability can't be questioned, as he's proven that he has the talent to win in this league, but the real question is obviously his health. Leftwich has missed more games to injury in each of his last three seasons than the season before. Leftwich claims that his ankle is completely healed thanks to surgery he had last season, and that lingering injury is what caused him to miss nearly 16 of the teams last 22 regular season games. To play the role of devil's advocate, Leftwich did say that his ankle felt fine last year as well.
The second part of the question about Leftwich's health is his contract status. Leftwich is playing out the final year of his contract, and many of his media relationships in Jacksonville have been strained, due to no fault of his own. There is also the major/minor/whatever you consider it, rift with Del Rio who benched Leftwich last season, and was an advocate of selecting Brady Quinn in the draft. Assuming Leftwich stays healthy and has the big year that he's capable of having, Byron will hold the Jaguars future at the quarterback position in his hands. He can re-sign with the team, or simply go somewhere else. The Jaguars would have the option of franchising him, but that would cause them to have to pay approximately $13 million for one year, which the team isn't likely to do. Leftwich hasn't said anything definitive about whether or not he'll stay in Jacksonville. He's said that he likes the area and likes playing here with all of his teammates, and he'll address the off-season business in the off-season.
In his toughest off-season as a pro, Leftwich has handled everything thrown his way extremely well. He's said all the right things, and hasn't ducked any criticism. He's been a great community guy in Jacksonville, even though a lot of his efforts don't get publicized. Say what you want about Leftwich's health, or commitment to the team beyond the '07 season, but you must respect the man for the way he conducts his business.
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